Focus on Literature in Germany

Microcosm: Family – German-Israeli Literature Festival in Berlin

Cover image of the German-Israel Literature Festival, 2012; © Maud Meinel“beziehungsweise(n)”, “respectively”, is the title of the fourth German-Israeli Literature Festival, sponsored by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Goethe Institut and taking place in Berlin from April 25 to 29 2012.

The point of departure for the fourth German-Israeli Literature Festival is the theme respectively and the microcosm of relationships represented by the family. How important is the family today? How closely knit are familial bonds? And what models of the family have developed because of social changes in both countries?

“In Israel you’re very often and very openly asked about your family. The subject seems to be very important there”, says project coordinator Frank Domhan. “On my many visits to Israel I’ve repeatedly observed that Israeli family life is subject to an apparent strictness, which organizes the family and holds it together. This strictness of course has to do with tradition. At the same time, people are very open and quickly take up outsiders into this circle. The understanding of what belongs only in the closest family circle and what extends far beyond it is different from that in Germany.”

Loss and separation

Arye Sharuz Shalicar; photo: privatOn five evenings of readings and discussions, authors from Israel and Germany will approach the theme of the family from their literary and personal perspectives. With reference to their novels Sarah Shiloh and Thomas Hettche will discuss changes in family structure that can be caused by calamities or separation. How do families deal with the sudden death of the husband and father? How does a father experience withdrawal of parental custody? The figures in the novels of Lizzie Doron and Christopher Kloeble also confront the absence of the father or the mother, the parent that the children never knew and yet set out in search of. This unfolds family stories and strips away long-guarded secrets.

Identity and migration

Eshkol Nevo and his translator Anne Birkenhauer; photo: Michael GuggenheimerThe story of his Persian-Jewish family is also important for the author Aryeh Sharuz Shalicar. He was little aware of the significance of his Jewish identity until the confrontation with Arab fellow pupils at a school in the Berlin district of Wedding brought it into the foreground and eventually led him to Israel. By contrast, Eshkol Nevo ventures a literary step beyond the geographical borders of his native Israel in his latest novel Neuland (Uncharted Territory). The two authors share the concern with the question about belonging and the nature of one’s homeland.

Yotam Tolub; photo: privatThe interrelationship of migration, new homeland and family dynamics also concerns the two young authors Yotam Tolub from Israel and Olga Grjasnowa, who was born in Azerbaijan and, after stations in Poland, Russia and Israel, lives today in Berlin. “When you move to a different country with your family, the family becomes a capsule that provides stability and helps to digest all the external changes”, writes Tolub, describing his childhood experiences in the United States where he and his family lived temporarily. In his debut novel he tells the story of a brother and sister who react very differently to the move to a foreign country. At the same time, Tolub’s novel illustrates that migration is a natural component in the story of almost every Israeli family and that Israeli family ties often extend over several continents. In Germany, by contrast, migration is discussed above all against the background of the linguistic and cultural integration of foreigners seeking a new home in the country.

State of emergency

Tent protest in Tel Aviv against social injustice; © Shoshana LiessmannThe smoldering political conflicts in the Middle East and the related daily menace make themselves immediately felt in Israeli family life. The emotional stress felt by soldiers, the fears felt for relatives, and even the tragic loss of loved ones have created an ongoing state of emergency. It leaves its mark on family life and has shattered some families. German soldiers deployed in Afghanistan and their families face a similar ordeal. Amichai Shalev and Dirk Kurbjuweit will read passages from their novels on this theme.

Relationships and sensitivities

The banner of the German-Israel Literature Festival, 2012; © Maud Meinel

The first German-Israeli Literature Festival was organized in 2005 as part of the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany. At that time the festival focused on the German-Israeli relationship and the perception and treatment of the Shoah in the literatures of the two countries. In addition to presenting authors’ readings, the organizers were from the beginning particularly interested in having discussions between and with authors. In 2012 this exchange will provide the opportunity to discover each country through the very personal perspectives of the interlocutors and thereby to confront pre-existing ideas. The program and title of the 2012 Literature Festival also shows that, in addition to historical treatments, it is equally important to foster concrete exchanges on current social and political issues and sensitivities in both countries. Opportunities to do this will be offered both by a political roundtable on social understandings of the welfare state and a film evening centered on the Israeli television cult series Avodah Aravit (Arab Labor). The series treats the daily turmoil of an Israeli-Arab family torn between Israeli and Palestinian identity.

Shoshana Liessmann
The author is a freelance journalist and lecturer based in Munich.

Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
April 2012

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